The Westcott Apollo, a handy light modifier for off-camera, small flash, costs about $170. Like most professional photographic equipment, it’s entirely too expensive for someone who has to pay taxes, health insurance, and all the other pleasures of owning your own small business; so I felt compelled to make my own. After some quick research and much inspiration from diyphotography.net, I came to the conclusion that although many great guides to very functional and easy to build softboxes were out there, none gave me the impression that they had the look, feel and build of more professional boxes.
Before diving directly into the construction of the softbox, I’d like to briefly discuss the materials needed for the project which will begin in helping you to decide what is right for you.
The ribs of most softboxes out there seem to be made either of fiberglass for the small to medium boxes, carbon for larger sized boxes, or umbrella style metal rods for the smaller models. I decided to go with fiberglass rods because they are stronger than fiberglass tubes and just as, if not less, expensive. Two very good places to get these fiberglass/carbon rods/tubes are IntoTheWind and Goodwinds; both are online kite stores that sell replacement spars for competitive kites and thus offer a great selection of exactly the pieces we need. Naturally, carbon is more expensive but is less prone to break, however both materials are well within budget limits where prices range anywhere from less than 1USD to around 7USD for 4-foot pieces (depending on diameter and material).
The rigidity of the spars is, among other things, a function of the diameter, so you may have to experiment on your own regarding which diameter to get and whether to get solid rod or tube material. If you are buying low cost sections of spars, simply buy various sizes to get the right rigidity. For this project, I bought two 4-foot sections of 0.156in diameter fiberglass rods which gave me enough flexibility to lend the shape that I wanted while also having enough rigidity not to snap and to hold it’s shape while installed. The total cost of these two sections was $2.58 + shipping.
We will be needing three different types of material: 1) inner, reflective fabric; 2) outer, black, shell; 3) front, white, diffusion fabric. For my fabrics, I went to my local Hancock Fabrics store and was able to find everything I needed including fabric and sew on velcro.
1) For the inner, reflective material, I bought one yard of a white, blackout material that seemed to me to be the most reflective; price for one yard is $3.99
2) For the outer, black material, I bought one yard of a black, nylon ripstop; price for one yard is $4.99
3) For the white, diffusion material, I bought one yard of a white, cotton material, the cheapest and most see through I could find; price for one yard is $1.99
The sewing velcro is the most expensive thing you end up buying, I ended up buying three packs, make sure you have enough!
- 2 4-foot sections of 0.156in diameter fiberglass rods ($2.58)
- 1yd white, blackout material ($3.99)
- 1yd black, nylon ripstop ($4.99)
- 1yd white, cotton cloth ($1.99)
- sew on Velcro ($8.55)
- small hard plastic block for frame (free as scrap from local plastics company)
- fiberglass rod for mounting (free from old tent)
- scrap cardboard or paper for template (free)
- string (free)
1) Begin by taking both of your 4-foot sections of fiberglass, and cut them in half to give you four equal lengths of rod. The way to do this, is to wrap duct or electrical tape tightly around where you want to cut the rod. Then take a hack saw, lay the rod on a piece of wood which you can cut into, and slowly/gently cut the rod in half. It may be a good idea to buy little end caps like these for your cuts since the rods may splinter a bit.
2) Take the hard plastic block and drill 4 holes on the edges of it so that the fiberglass rods snugly slide into the block.
3) Slide the rods into the plastic block and tie the opposite sides of the rods up tightly to give the desired shape of modifier you want.
1) Before we can begin cutting and sewing the material, we need a template. Lay one quadrant of your now complete frame on the cardboard/paper and trace the rough shape on it.
2) Cut out the shape you traced, I highly recommend you try making this shape as symmetric as possible. Fold the shape you traced in half (long ways) and cut the shape out so that when you open the fold, you get a perfectly symmetric shape.
3) Trace this shape onto your white (the blackout) and black fabric four times. You should be able to fit four shapes onto a 1yd pieces (depending, of course, on the size of your template), it’s a bit tricky but just plan ahead.
4) When cutting them out, leave about half an inch of space to the outside of the drawn line so that we have room to sew. Also, on the black pieces, leave about a two inch length at the top. If done correctly, you should have the following shapes.
5) Now we can begin sewing; we will do this by completing the four quadrants separately, and then sewing them together. With a sewing machine, sew a piece of the white blackout and black ripstop together along the red lines as shown.
6) Flip this quadrant inside out so that the seam you just sewed is on the inside. Flip the excess black material in, onto the white, and along that edge sew a line of Velcro.
7) Repeat steps 5 and 6 three other times to have 4 identical quadrant pieces.
8) Take one quadrant, cut a seam open down the middle of it, about 13in long, and sew velcro on each side; this is the hole through which the light stand will go (see photo below).
9) To begin putting it all together, take any two quadrants and place the black sides onto each other, sew along one white edge (doesn’t matter left or right edge).
10) Take another piece, and repeat step 9 with the section that has two quadrants sown together.
11) Repeat step 9 with the section that now has three quadrants sown together.
12) Complete the fabric cover by sewing the last seam together. Again, this is done so that you overlap the quadrants to where the white fabric is showing on the outside, then sew along the outer edge.
13) At the top (near to where the velcro is) on the four corners, sew on some extra fabric so that it forms a little pocket for the ends of the fiberglass rods to fit into (see photos below).
1) Take your rods out of the plastic base and take off the string.
2) Put the plastic base inside of your finished fabric cover and install each of the rods, bending them and then placing the end into the pocket.
Note: you probably noticed I sowed in some mini straps to keep the rods in place, along the middle of each seam; these are unnecessary and so I did not mention them before.
3) Once you have the softbox setup, measure the opening of it (where the velcro is).
4) Cut a square with these dimension of the final piece of white, cotton fabric and sew Velcro on the edges of it.
5) Finish the box by drilling a hole in the corner of the plastic base, at the desired angle, to fit the mounting rod into.
I haven’t had the chance to test it extensively but here is what light looks like coming out of the box as well as some random shots I threw together quickly; all shots are one light (SB600) shot through the light box without reflectors.